'Stability' rules in Putin's reshuffle, but Mutko loses sports brief

Sochi (Russia) (AFP) –


Russia's doping-tainted deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko lost his sports portfolio in a government reshuffle Friday, but other key players retained their posts for President Vladimir Putin's fourth Kremlin term.

The heads of the foreign, defence and finance ministries remained the same under Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who along with Putin has stressed the need for "stability" in the leadership.

Mutko was named as one of the architects of a state-sponsored cheating programme among Russian athletes that led to the country being banned from last winter's Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

The 59-year-old has been put in charge of construction in the new government that Medvedev submitted for Putin's approval at a televised meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The reshuffle comes just weeks ahead of the World Cup hosted by Russia from June 14 to July 15. As sports minister from 2008 to 2016, Mutko played an instrumental role in the preparations.

He had said after Putin's re-election to a fourth term in March that he would like to continue overseeing sports.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov retained his role, as did Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Internationally respected since his appointment as foreign minister in 2004, Lavrov has been the top diplomat during a particularly turbulent time for Russia's ties with the West.

A tough negotiator, the 68-year-old continues to defend Moscow's position around the world, speaking almost daily on crises in Syria and Ukraine.

Defence minister since 2012, Shoigu has been behind the modernisation of the Russian army -- most recently associated with the Russian military campaign in Syria.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov also held onto his post and was promoted to the position of first deputy prime minister, the second most important position in government, in one of the most significant changes to the lineup.

Putin told Medvedev he agreed to the appointments.

"They are all well known with good experience and have done well in their areas of work," he said.

- 'Continuity' government -

Others who kept their posts include Economy Minster Maxim Oreshkin, who was appointed in 2016 after his predecessor Alexei Ulyukayev was arrested and later jailed for eight years of taking a bribe.

Controversial Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky also stayed on, despite rumours earlier that he would be replaced.

He has made no secret of his conservative views and backing for patriotic historical projects. Medinsky has publicly criticised top arts figures such as Oscar-nominated film director Andrei Zvyagintsev.

Among those to lose posts were Dmitry Rogozin, a nationalist who had served as deputy prime minister with a brief for space affairs. Media reports said that he could take over as head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The emergency situations minister Vladimir Puchkov also lost out after taking over from Shoigu in 2012. He came under criticism in March over a huge fire in a Siberian shopping mall that killed dozens of people, many of them children.

Puchkov was replaced with Yevgeny Zinichev, currently the deputy director of the FSB security agency.

The agriculture ministry also gained a new head, Dmitry Patrushev, the son of Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's security council, replacing Alexander Tkachev who was in the role for three years.

Putin was reelected on March 18 and inaugurated as president on May 7. He re-appointed Medvedev, his close ally, to carry on as prime minister and said that it was "extremely important to preserve continuity."

Putin's new term will see the introduction of unpopular reforms, with Medvedev calling for the raising of the retirement age from 55 for women and 60 for men.